My 2022 Apple Report Card

This week Jason Snell published his annual Six Colors Apple Report Card for 2022. As I’ve done for a few years now — 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018 — I’m publishing my full remarks and grades here. On Snell’s report card, voters give per-category scores ranging from 5 to 1; I’ve translated these to letter grades, A to E.

The Mac: A

How would you rate Apple’s performance in the Mac in 2022? Consider new Mac models, the continued Apple Silicon transition, new macOS versions, and anything else you deem relevant. 5 is best, 1 is worst.

MacOS 13 Ventura is a solid upgrade.

The Apple silicon transition continued with another strong year. The MacBook Air is Apple’s most popular and most important Mac, and the M2 models that debuted at WWDC are the best laptops for most people ever made. Thin, light, fast, long-lasting battery life, and they even introduced the midnight colorway — the first truly “dark” laptops from Apple since the black MacBooks sold circa 2006–2008, and before that, the G3 PowerBooks from 2001. Apple silicon is absolutely pantsing its x86 competition, and no one else is making ARM chips for serious PCs.

The Mac Pro was the one Mac that skipped the M1 generation of chips, but while disappointing, that omission was more than made up for by the addition of the Mac Studio — a “small tower for pros” form factor that Mac users have been clamoring for ever since the discontinuation of the G4 Cube.

Apple also finally (no sarcasm intended) introduced the reasonably-priced standalone 5K Studio Display. The built-in webcam is meh at best, but the display itself is wonderful, including the $300 option for “nano-texture” anti-glare/anti-reflective glass. This is my ideal display.

There’s an ongoing clamor for an Apple Silicon version of the 27-inch iMac (or iMac Pro even), but I think that desire is misguided. It is much better to get a Studio Display — which should be a great display for years and years — and a Mac Mini or Mac Studio to connect to it. You’ll be able to replace the Mac Mini or Studio once, twice, maybe even three times before the Studio Display needs to be replaced. The 24-inch iMac is no more “all-in-one” than a Mac Mini connected to a Studio Display — the iMac has an external power brick that’s about the size of an Apple TV. Sure, that power brick is smaller than a Mac Mini, but it’s still a box you need to connect. I think it’s more likely that Apple will stop selling any iMacs at all than add a larger model.

The iPhone: A

How would you rate Apple’s performance on the iPhone in 2022? Consider the new iPhone models, iOS updates, and anything else you deem relevant. 5 is best, 1 is worst.

Not a groundbreaking year for iPhone, but it’s neither possible nor desirable to break new ground every year. iOS is 15 years old and it’s appropriate for Apple to treat it as a mature platform, because that’s what it is. iOS 16 is a solid upgrade, with much of Apple’s efforts seemingly directed at polish and reliability. Both technically and conceptually, iOS has a solid foundation.

It’s a shame that the Mini form factor was dropped from the iPhone 14 lineup. But big-ass phones are more popular than elegant small ones, so the addition of the iPhone 14 Plus — Apple’s first non-Pro 6.7-inch iPhone — is a net win. My biggest gripe about the iPhone 14 Pro models remains their use of polished stainless steel for the sides. It feels slippery at times, and steel is so much heavier than aluminum (or, cough, titanium). I bought a 14 Pro because of the camera system and other Pro-exclusive features, but I’d prefer those features in an iPhone that feels like and weighs as little as the non-pro iPhone 14.

The Dynamic Island is a wonderfully inventive design: useful, attractive, fun.

The iPad: B

I’d have scored this lower if not for the solid improvements to the consumer-level iPad hardware in 2022. It’s great that the 10th-gen no-adjective iPad starts at just $450 and brings that model into the modern “all-screen/no home-button” design era. I hope Apple eventually moves the non-pro models from Touch ID on their side buttons to Face ID, but that’s a reasonable tradeoff today for lower prices.

I generally don’t complain about mere “speed bump” hardware updates, but the iPad Pro models are unchanged, industrial-design-wise, since 2018. That’s a long time. I can’t help but believe that if not for COVID and two years of work-from-home and severe travel restrictions between the U.S. and China, that we’d have seen a design refresh for the iPads Pro in 2022. It feels like just another sign that among Apple’s three personal computing platforms — Mac, iPhone, and iPad — iPad comes last in terms of attention. Those are my personal priorities, too, so I don’t fault them. But I’m not here to grade Apple on a curve. That said, though — those 2018 designs are excellent. My daily driver iPad remains a 2018 11-inch iPad Pro.

Stage Manager was a major new feature for both MacOS and iPadOS this year, but I can’t help but think it was more important for the iPad. On the Mac, Stage Manager is an alternative new way to manage windows and multiple apps. On the iPad, it feels more like an attempt to enable a level of multi-app productivity that heretofore wasn’t possible. For me, at least, it isn’t appealing and feels half-baked conceptually. The iPad experience offered much more clarity — which I found satisfying, if at times frustrating — in the early 2010s, when it was just a big iPhone. Conceptually I find advanced usage of iPadOS to be muddled. I suppose it’s actually untrue but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t feel like I’m more productive on my small-screen iPhone than I am on my large-screen iPad. It’s the damnedest thing.

Apple Watch: A

Apple Watch Ultra is a splendid new interpretation of what an Apple Watch can be. It’s obviously more rugged, but the larger screen and significantly longer battery life offer serious advantages even for the un-athletic and unadventurous. Titanium is an excellent material, more durable than aluminum and far lighter than steel. (Would be cool if, next year, they offer it in a dark-tinted titanium too.)

Software-wise, WatchOS has seemingly achieved platform maturity. Apple knows what WatchOS is for, users agree, and they continue to polish and improve it.

Wearables: A

I loved my first-gen AirPods Pro and didn’t think I’d see a need to replace them with the new second-gen model, but holy hell are both the noise cancellation and transparency modes improved. Making the case Find My compatible is a nice addition too. When they were announced in September, I wrote, “The new AirPods Pro are the best single expression of Apple as a company today. Not the most important product, not the most complicated, not the most essential. But the one that exemplifies everything Apple is trying to do. They are simple, they are useful, and they offer features that most people use and want.” Having owned and used them daily for months now, I stand by that.

Apple TV (hardware/OS): B

The best new feature of the new Apple TV hardware is the price. It’s finally in the range where I felt it should have been for years. No, it’s nowhere near as cheap as the HDMI sticks or cheap boxes from competitors, but the real competition for Apple TV is the built-in “smart” software on modern TVs. The current pricing of Apple TV hardware is commensurate with its value.

Apple doesn’t get enough credit for making advanced features like Dolby Vision and Atmos audio “just work”. I can imagine numerous ways that the tvOS interface can be improved, but it’s by far the best such interface I’ve seen. I use it nightly and don’t know what I’d do without it.

Services: B

How would you rate Apple’s performance in services in 2022? Consider Apple TV+, Apple News+, Apple Fitness+, Apple Music, iCloud, Apple Card, Apple Pay, AppleCare, and anything else you deem appropriate. 5 is best, 1 is worst.

At this point, I find “Services” to be overly broad as a single category for Apple. It’s almost like if there were just one category for “Hardware”. 2022 was a mixed bag. I’ve been a fan of TV+ original content from its inception and it continues to get better. “Severance” was my favorite season of a TV series since “Mad Men” ended in 2015. Apple Music has a great catalog but a lousy confusing software interface — quite possibly Apple’s worst app. iCloud is underrated — many people internalized the “Apple is bad at services and syncing” narrative from a decade ago and don’t realize how good the company has gotten at it. iCloud is secure, fast, and reliable today. iCloud backup for iPhones and iPads is a remarkably good and essential service — not just for disaster recovery, but also for seamless migrations from old to new devices.

It’s starting to feel downright miserly, though, that Apple is still offering only a mere 5 GB of storage at the free tier, and have left the paid-tier storage allotments unchanged since like forever.

HomeKit/Home: C

Progress continues, clearly. Anecdotally, the HomeKit stuff in my house seemingly works more reliably than ever. It’s great that Apple contributed HomeKit to serve as the foundation for the open Matter standard, and that Matter devices are now starting to come to market. But big picture, this whole thing still feels like it’s always poised to get good “next year”. 2022 wasn’t that year.

Hardware Reliability: A

Anecdotally, no hardware problems for me last year other than my old, much, much-used and still-used 2014 MacBook Pro suffering a swollen battery. A much-used 8-year-old device finally suffering a problem is a sign of how good Apple’s hardware reliability is.

Software Quality: B

How would you rate the overall quality of Apple’s software, including operating systems, bundled apps, and sold apps, in 2022? Consider anything you deem appropriate. 5 is best, 1 is worst.

I gave this one a 2 last year, on the grounds of questionable design. I get the impression this category is meant more as a gauge of bugginess, reliability, and performance. I still have the same concerns about the direction of Apple’s software design that I did last year, especially on the Mac. But I think their software reliability has been excellent. Consider the numerous features under the Continuity umbrella. Features like copying something on your iPhone and being able to just paste it on your Mac, and vice-versa. Or starting a new message in Mail on your iPhone and using Handoff to finish writing it on your Mac. Those features have been around for years, but it seems to me they work more reliably than ever. I appreciate that. So, fine here’s a 4 this year.

Developer Relations: C

Repeating myself from last year: Resentment over App Store policies continues to build. Frustrations with the App Store review process seem unimproved. Apple’s goal should be for developer relations to be so good that developers want to create software exclusively for Apple’s platforms. The opposite is happening.

Social and Societal Impact: A

Again I’ll repeat myself from last year, while upping my grade from 4 to 5:

I believe that climate/carbon is the societal area where a company like Apple can and should make the most difference, and I’m hard-pressed to think how they could be doing more than they are, practically.

We’re living in sensitive times on other social issues, and Apple seems to be managing that very astutely and honestly.